Colombian Culture

Family

One’s family is the most important aspect of life for most Colombians. It tends to have a major influence on the individual, providing a sense of identity, community and support. It also forms the basis for many people’s social circles. There is a general expectation placed upon Colombians to be loyal and committed to their family by putting the interests of the family above their own. People will often go out of their way to support their relatives.


Close-knit family relations provide Colombians with a network of security and support, particularly in times of need. This is especially relevant to the lower classes as the extended family can act as an indispensable source of support for coping with hardships during difficult times. People from this social bracket tend to be more open about their family’s personal problems so that others can aid them in their time of difficulty. Neighbours often play a large role in this way. Meanwhile, the elite class are generally more private about their personal issues in order to protect their reputation.

 

Most Colombians have a pair of godparents (padrinos) that are chosen at their baptism. This couple plays an important role in a child’s life, acting as a second parental figure and providing advice. Parental authority from one’s birth parents, godparents and grandparents generally continues throughout a Colombian’s life, even after they have become a fully independent adult. This reflects the strong cultural respect for age and close familial relations. Elderly parents are usually looked after at home into old age.


Household Structure

The family dynamic and household structure varies between social classes. In the lower class, extended family members may live with the nuclear family in multigenerational households. Some children may move out of their parents’ home at marriage, but it is common for Colombian families to live together continuously. People also tend to have many unplanned children, due to limited access to contraceptives and sexual education.

 

Wealth affords the upper class a more individualistic family structure. The nuclear family usually lives alone and they normally have one  to two children that move out of the household when they have a job providing a solid income. Nevertheless, bonds between extended family members remain very close. Extended families will visit each other frequently and celebrate major occasions together, such as a wedding or birthday. Relatives will also visit each other regularly if they live in close proximity to one another.


Gender Roles

Colombia has made significant progress towards gender equality over the past century. Both men and women have equal rights and access to opportunities in law. However, broadly speaking, men are the primary income earners for the family while women are expected to be the homemakers. While many women comfortably hold jobs in addition to their domestic role, men often find it very shameful for their wife to earn more than themselves.


The set of ideal attributes belonging to males and females in Latin America are known as ‘machismo’ and ‘marianismo’ respectively. Under these cultural standards, men are expected to be masculine, self-reliant and dominant. Meanwhile, the ideal of women is heavily influenced by the iconography of Roman Catholicism. The Virgin Mary is often a symbol of the epitome of femininity that Colombian women are expected to follow and embody. In this way, the general cultural attitude towards women is quite paternal. A man’s female family members are often seen as pure, moral and precious people – upholding respectability. Colombian men are often very proud and protective of their wives, mothers and sisters.

 

The difference of standards is seen in the way socialisation is viewed differently between men and women. Men have more freedom to socialise outside of their family and are often known to have two reputations – one in the home (la casa) and one on the street (la calle). Meanwhile, a mother who socialises a lot is thought to be neglectful of her family. The machismo culture also expects men to have a large sexual appetite, so while infidelity is not accepted or encouraged, it is somewhat thought to be inevitable on their behalf. Women are heavily shamed for the same behaviour, sometimes to great consequence.

 

These gender ideals vary between families and socioeconomic backgrounds. Women from the upper class often have more independence to pursue activity outside of the domestic sphere. However, there is a great cultural pressure on women to get married and bear children quickly. This has restricted  women’s participation in certain jobs and activities. Nevertheless, Colombian women cannot be described as weak. They are generally taught to be independent and stand up for themselves. There are many Colombian stories with protagonists that encourage young girls to feel assertive and capable. The confidence and fortitude of Colombian women is often noticeable in this regard. As such, though some may be relegated to the domestic sphere, they often still have a lot of authority in decision making.

 

Marriage and Dating

Partnership and marriage varies between the different classes and continues to be influenced by the Catholic Church. The legal age for marriage in Colombia is 18. However, children can marry over the age of 12 with parental consent (World Policy Center, 2017). Not many Colombians intend to be married early. People generally wish to experience life without a partner for as long as possible before settling down and building a family. Currently, only 20% of Colombians of reproductive age (18-49) are married (Gill, 2016). More couples are choosing to live together without getting married (30%), 33% are still single, 15% are separated and 2% are widowed (Gill, 2016).


Despite the declining preference for marriage, Colombia has very high rates of young marriage. According to UNICEF, 23% of girls are married before they turn 18 (UNICEF, 2016). This is largely because social factors (such as the impacts of conflict, poverty and a lack of sexual education) has led to a prevalence of early pregnancy. As of 2010, roughly one in five women aged 15-19 were pregnant or had already had a child (World Bank, 2017). In these circumstance, people may marry quickly so they do not give birth out of wedlock (which is looked down upon by the Catholic Church). According to the World Factbook, the median age for women to have their first child is 21. Comparatively, Colombia has quite a low divorce rate. This is partly because the Catholic Church generally discourages it. 


Marriage ceremonies and services usually follow the Roman Catholic tradition. However, some couples may choose to have a civil ceremony. There are a variety of cultural traditions for weddings; for example, the couple often has a candle ceremony whereby the bride and groom each light a candle which they use to light a third unity candle together, representing their union. The Colombian interpretation of Catholicism puts an emphasis on female purity through the idea of the Virgin Mary.

 

For some Colombians in the lower and middle classes, marriage is one of the only ways to achieve upward social mobility. When intermarriage across class or race does occur, it is more commonly between a man of higher social status and a woman of lower wealth/status/etc.

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